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Concerns over so-called hate group at ‘Islamophobia’ talk at FAU

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Florida Atlantic University (FAU) campus in Boca Raton. Staff photo by Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post

 

A panel of local Muslims set to discuss “Islamophobia” at Florida Atlantic University Monday night has alerted authorities that a Lake Worth-based group — labeled a “hate group” by a prominent civil rights organization — is urging its members to attend the event.

Those involved have advised the student organization hosting the talk not to engage those protesters.

FAU’s Boca Raton campus is the second stop on a tour that is scheduled to take the panel to 14 South Florida universities and college campuses in a year, said Afifa Khaliq, a volunteer with the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County, which is helping FAU’s Muslim Student Association plan Monday’s event.

The first went off without a hitch in March at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.

But this month, according to an email obtained by MCPBC, a group called The United West, recognized by The Southern Poverty Law Center as one of three anti-Muslim groups operating in Florida, asked its followers to crash the event, which is open to the public.

Tom Trento, Lake Worth-based director of The United West, disputed the characterization of his organization as a hate group and said it has encouraged the public to attend the event peacefully, “to watch the Muslim Brotherhood run a propaganda campaign.”

“Everyone who has expressed interest in attending has been told this is not protest or a confrontation of any sort. It is an educational program taught by the Muslim Brotherhood and can be extremely instructive for all Americans,” Trento said.

Most of the panelists are “involved in one form of terrorism or another,” through organizations under watch by the U.S. Department of Justice, he said.

Khaliq dismissed Trento’s allegations as baseless.

“That very Justice Department is coming and supporting this event and they are very well aware of all the panelists, who are esteemed, well respected Muslims in the community,” she said. “It’s about time that people like him, who target Muslims in Florida, who target gays and lesbians in North Carolina and who target African-Americans for the color of their skin, need to stop doing it and let the society live in tolerance.”

March’s panel in Palm Beach Gardens drew 300 people but no apparent protest. Attendees heard from Deema Gichi, who recalled her welcome home to the U.S. after a family trip to Syria when she was 13: a security screening in an employee lunchroom. The female agent quizzed her about the metal wires underneath her head covering — bobby pins.

The panel also fielded some basic questions, including “Do you wear your hijab in the shower?”, Khaliq said.

“There is a rise in Islamophobia. There have been incidents in Palm Beach County where the mosques have been attacked. People have a lot of questions about Islam and religion. They don’t really know their neighbors, they don’t ask their neighbors. This is an opportunity to ask their questions,” Khaliq said.

Gichi will again participate and news that The United West is encouraging its followers to attend didn’t faze her. “Frankly, we are welcoming anyone to attend. Our main goal is just to raise awareness about Islam. We are trying to live in harmony.”

Said fellow panelist Wilfredo A. Ruiz: “It’s a very short presentation followed by an ample Q & A session where people can interact and hear directly from the Muslim community.” Ruiz, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he was familiar with The United West, which he described as having an “agent provocateur” strategy of making people who attend these events uncomfortable as they arrive.

Though the U.S. Census doesn’t track population by religion, surveys suggest the Muslim population in South Florida has grown to 100,000, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations — that’s up from about 45,000 in 2001, according to Palm Beach Post archives.

The push to host a panel on Islamophobia came from non-Muslim students at PBSC, Khaliq said. The panel has five speakers, CAIR’s Ruiz, Gichi, an FAU student who also works at PBSC, an FAU professor, a local attorney who is Muslim and a member of the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County. The next stop is in July at Florida International University in Miami.

Updated: 7:41 p.m. Sunday, May 22, 2016  |  Posted: 12:14 p.m. Sunday, May 22, 2016

A panel of local Muslims set to discuss “Islamophobia” at Florida Atlantic University Monday night has alerted authorities that a Lake Worth-based group — labeled a “hate group” by a prominent civil rights organization — is urging its members to attend the event.

Those involved have advised the student organization hosting the talk not to engage those protesters.

FAU’s Boca Raton campus is the second stop on a tour that is scheduled to take the panel to 14 South Florida universities and college campuses in a year, said Afifa Khaliq, a volunteer with the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County, which is helping FAU’s Muslim Student Association plan Monday’s event.

The first went off without a hitch in March at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens.

But this month, according to an email obtained by MCPBC, a group called The United West, recognized by The Southern Poverty Law Center as one of three anti-Muslim groups operating in Florida, asked its followers to crash the event, which is open to the public.

+ [Concerns over so-called hate group at ‘Islamophobia’ talk at FAU photo]
Florida Atlantic University (FAU) campus in Boca Raton. Staff photo by Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post

Tom Trento, Lake Worth-based director of The United West, disputed the characterization of his organization as a hate group and said it has encouraged the public to attend the event peacefully, “to watch the Muslim Brotherhood run a propaganda campaign.”

“Everyone who has expressed interest in attending has been told this is not protest or a confrontation of any sort. It is an educational program taught by the Muslim Brotherhood and can be extremely instructive for all Americans,” Trento said.

Most of the panelists are “involved in one form of terrorism or another,” through organizations under watch by the U.S. Department of Justice, he said.

Khaliq dismissed Trento’s allegations as baseless.

“That very Justice Department is coming and supporting this event and they are very well aware of all the panelists, who are esteemed, well respected Muslims in the community,” she said. “It’s about time that people like him, who target Muslims in Florida, who target gays and lesbians in North Carolina and who target African-Americans for the color of their skin, need to stop doing it and let the society live in tolerance.”

March’s panel in Palm Beach Gardens drew 300 people but no apparent protest. Attendees heard from Deema Gichi, who recalled her welcome home to the U.S. after a family trip to Syria when she was 13: a security screening in an employee lunchroom. The female agent quizzed her about the metal wires underneath her head covering — bobby pins.

The panel also fielded some basic questions, including “Do you wear your hijab in the shower?”, Khaliq said.

“There is a rise in Islamophobia. There have been incidents in Palm Beach County where the mosques have been attacked. People have a lot of questions about Islam and religion. They don’t really know their neighbors, they don’t ask their neighbors. This is an opportunity to ask their questions,” Khaliq said.

Gichi will again participate and news that The United West is encouraging its followers to attend didn’t faze her. “Frankly, we are welcoming anyone to attend. Our main goal is just to raise awareness about Islam. We are trying to live in harmony.”

Said fellow panelist Wilfredo A. Ruiz: “It’s a very short presentation followed by an ample Q & A session where people can interact and hear directly from the Muslim community.” Ruiz, a spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he was familiar with The United West, which he described as having an “agent provocateur” strategy of making people who attend these events uncomfortable as they arrive.

Though the U.S. Census doesn’t track population by religion, surveys suggest the Muslim population in South Florida has grown to 100,000, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations — that’s up from about 45,000 in 2001, according to Palm Beach Post archives.

The push to host a panel on Islamophobia came from non-Muslim students at PBSC, Khaliq said. The panel has five speakers, CAIR’s Ruiz, Gichi, an FAU student who also works at PBSC, an FAU professor, a local attorney who is Muslim and a member of the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County. The next stop is in July at Florida International University in Miami.

If you go

What: Islamophobia Voices from the Muslim Community

Where: Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton

The Live Oak Pavilion (Bldg LO-31B)

When: Monday, May 23, 2016, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.